Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fr. Benedict Ashley on How Music Stirs the Emotions

In order to signify these emotions by a musical pattern we need to produce a series of notes that move toward or away from sounds that are pleasant and unpleasant. A pattern of concordant or related notes seems pleasant, a pattern of unrelated notes seems unpleasant. The pleasant pattern seems restful and suggests a state of bodily relaxation; the unpleasant pattern is disturbing and indicates bodily tension. When a design is suggested but not completed, then we are in a state of anticipation and tension until it is completed. In this way a piece of music is a constant alternation between the building up and tearing down of a musical design, and this movement to and from an expected pattern or order signifies the emotions. If we see an expected design dissolving or incomplete, the emotions of sorrow are signified; if we see it building up in spite of obstacles, the emotions of joy are signified.

In dancing we have a similar alternation of visual patterns. In painting, sculpture, or architecture there is no actual movement, and at first it might appear that they could never signify the flow of emotion. But every motion begins and ends in rest, and in a static design it is possible to indicate that a motion is about to begin, or has just ended, by showing a design which is not quite complete, but suggested. Hence a picture in which a design seems to be dissolving or ready to fall apart suggests something sorrowful, and a picture in which the design seems just to be arriving at completion suggests triumph and joy.


Source: Fr. Benedict M. Ashley, The Arts of Learning and Communication: A Handbook of the Liberal Arts (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 254.

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